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Copyright © 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer
The kids got in trouble tonight. Normally, Annette and Nicholas sleep
together in one room and Serena and Katie in another. Katie wanted to
sleep with A & N tonight, so we fixed up a little bed on the floor and Katie
settled in. The three of them immediately began to snicker and giggle.
The murmur of little giggles and squeals grew louder until 20 minutes later I
had to open the door and tell them to quiet down. They were quiet for about 5 minutes when the giggles and snickers
started again. This time it reached the level of a dull roar in about 10
minutes. I again opened the door and sternly warned them to close their
peepers and go to sleep. It was already way past their bed time. I
especially warned Katie to quiet down as she was inciting the shenanigans.
I told them that if they didn't quiet down, Katie would have to go back to her
own bed tonight. Ten minutes later they were back at it again. Jane walked in and told
them to go to sleep. Again, 10 minutes later, they were all abuzz.
This was getting ridiculous! I went in and told Katie to gather up her
stuff and march off to her own bed. I told her that she should learn
something from this incident. That it had started out as a liberty that
Jane and I had granted for her to sleep with A & N, but that she had abused that
liberty, and now had forfeited the privilege.
That incident got me to thinking about societies, cultures, and
civilizations. Throughout history, many cultures exhibit a common pattern
of ascendance and decline. The big picture view frequently goes like this:
1) at first there is liberty, 2) then there is abuse of liberty, and 3) finally
there is tyranny. This is the pattern of the Greeks, Romans, Macedonians,
Persians, Tsarist Russia, many African states, etc. The revelation I had
tonight was that the incident of the giggling children followed this same
pattern. I realized that this is a
This same cycle can be discerned in a society of 5 individuals over the course
of an hour (the giggling kids) and in the rise and fall of a civilization
involving millions of people over hundreds of years.
Fractal means "fractional dimension." Fractal patterns are everywhere
in nature. For example, section a piece of cauliflower.
Notice how each little mushroom shaped branch off the main cauliflower stem
looks just like the whole cauliflower itself. Like a bunch of little
cauliflower buds...they're a splittin' image of their Daddy. Them's
fractals them lit'le buggers are! Look at one of those little buds.
Notice that it has other even tinier buds branching off of it, and those
teeny-weeny buds look just like the rest of the plant. Their a family of
clones. This is a property of fractals called
self-similarity. The branching of the bronchi and bronchioles in
your lungs follow a
fractal pattern, as do the branches and twigs of a tree. Some other
examples of fractal patterns: changes in stock prices, the geometry of
coast lines, ocean waves in all sorts of ways, the turbulent flow of wind,
classical music, the shape of lava flows, the leaves of a fern, the shape of a
river basin, rock formations, the operation of your brain, even the sequence and
timing of scene changes in a movie. These fractal patterns occur both in
space (cauliflower) and time (changes in stock prices). Fractal patterns
are a basic feature of the world we live in. It is startling to realize
how permeating this self-similarity pattern is in so many things.
Anyway, back to the fractal pattern at hand...
This pattern of liberty, abuse of liberty, then tyranny occurs on many different
levels in a society:
- Timescale of Hours - On very short time scales, like say an hour,
the pattern emerges in situation such as the giggling kids.
- Timescale of Years - On longer timescales of say 10 years there are
situations like the E-mail spammers. It is your liberty to write E-mail
and send it to whomever you like. Enter the spammers abuse this
liberty by sending millions of E-mail to everyone. The abusers irritate
enough people and here comes the tyranny. Efforts are now underway to
clamp down on E-mail spammers.
governments are considering taxing the sending of E-mail, imposing criminal
penalties, and allowing law suits to stop the spammers. A bit of tyranny...not much, but not the freedom
once enjoyed. A few bad apples
spoil the barrel.
- Timescale of Centuries - A democratic country exhibits these three
phases too. Typically the society is very free at first. This
period seems to last as long as there are new frontiers to conquer and empire
building to be done. The society is outwardly focused. Its
citizens are helping one another build a great society, conquering obstacles
and setting things in order. There is an excitement like moving into a
new house. As the
country bumps up against boundaries, geographic or otherwise, it turns its
focus inward. Its citizens become selfish. With this selfishness,
satisfying the whims of the individual become the goal. Morality
underscores duty to community, personal restraint and sacrifice for the
communal good. Morality becomes a casualty of this inwardly focused,
selfish, self-gratifying citizenry. With each succeeding generation,
morality erodes, lowering the barriers for increased social excesses and
abuse. This is when a society transitions to the second phase; abuse of liberty.
This phase is characterized by a growth in laws and regulations.
Hand-in-hand is an increased litigious nature of the society. Freedoms
are gradually eroded as the society becomes more legalistic. This growth
in law is the seed of tyranny. A selfish society enacts laws not
necessarily for the greater good, but to control behavior deemed unattractive.
Witness the spectacle of political correctness. Behaviors which were
formerly lawful; smoking and the expression of certain opinions are now
banned. There are numerous subjects for which you may not publicly
express certain opinions without fear of legal persecution. Are we still
the land of the free or the home of the brave? Somewhere along the line,
society transitions to a state of tyranny. In a tyrannical society,
agents of the law, not the public conscience, dictate what is legal.
Lawmakers ensure laws are enforced by closely monitoring the public for
violations. Order is kept in the society by imposing exaggerated
penalties, thereby instilling fear in the populous. For
example, the development of the United States over the last 200 years. At first
it was truly the land of the free. Liberty to do anything you wanted.
The United States is currently in the "abuse of liberty" stage. There
has been a significant non-linear growth in laws and regulations since the
1970's. The society is becoming more litigious, selfish, and immoral.
The "baby-boomer" generation is exerting it's influence.
(behavior restrained by pubic
conscience, individual sense of public duty, and morality)
|Abuse of Liberty
(behavior restrained by
(behavior restrained by the state through laws and fear of prosecution)
- OK to sleep wherever you want
- OK to talk quietly
- OK to play with a few small toys
- getting carried away with playing and talking
- OK, everyone to their own beds in their own rooms.
- send E-mail to whomever you want
- send as many E-mails as you want
- It's free
- sending millions of E-mails to everyone and their dog
- laws to regulate to whom you can send E-mail and how many you can
- E-mail transmission is taxed by the state
(United States and ancient Rome)
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of action
- deliberately expressing views with an aim to incite (hate speech,
vulgar works of art, etc.)
- participating in actions without regard for public duty or the
impact those actions have on others
- significant growth in regulations controlling formerly lawful speech
- exaggerated penalties for infractions
Some Closing Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
- To an extent, the growth of bureaucracy is good. The bureaucracy
provides controlled channels for dealing with daily issues of commerce and
security. However, there's a point where the bureaucracy becomes
burdensome. As it increases in size, it costs more to operate and taxes increase.
The preponderance of laws and regulations begin to significantly infringe on the
liberty of people. In short, over time it becomes more
trouble than it's worth to operate the government apparatus. It's just not
worth being a citizen anymore. This is when a society fails; the fall of
- In the latter part of the "Abuse of Liberty" stage, a society is very
chaotic. A significant percentage of the populous is driven mostly by
selfish, indulgent desires. For example, in the latter days of Rome,
huge amounts were spent on the public circus. Chariot races, gladiators,
the coliseum was even flooded to allow the staging of naval battles, all in
the interest of sating the appetites of a vulgar, indulgent populous.
This is very different from the stolid, duty bound Roman of earlier times.
The earlier version of Roman is the one that built the empire, the latter
version tore it down.
This selfish public demeanor gives rise to a morality vacuum. How is
order maintained if everyone is just doing whatever feels good? In this
condition the society tends toward anarchy, and the operation of the state
cannot be maintained. The state steps in to provide order and direction
to the populous. This is tyranny coming to full bloom. The
immoral, decadent masses cannot be inspired to order. They must be
forced at the tip of a sword. The state is now providing the societal
cohesiveness which was formerly provided through the citizen's sense of civic
duty, morality, and manifest destiny.
- As the tyrannical phase sets in, government becomes the bastion of order.
A schism develops between citizenry and the government. The populous
becoming a force of self-serving, indulgent anarchy and the state exerting
pressure to maintain order. The citizenry essentially morph into a
barbarian horde over succeeding generations, with the state besieged.
The state becomes focused on self-perpetuation; it protects itself, evolving
into a police state.
For some fascinating reading on the theory of civilization, take a look